Charlotte Hornets

A faster pace served the Hornets well in center Al Jefferson’s 9-game absence

When the Charlotte Hornets lost center Al Jefferson to a groin strain, they had to find some other way to score.

The solution proved to be speeding the pace, and the Hornets managed to go 6-3 in Jefferson’s absence.

Now Jefferson is back, and the Hornets hope to strike a balance going forward between optimizing Jefferson’s skills in the low post and retaining this more up-tempo offense.

“It’s of huge benefit,” said point guard Kemba Walker, who practiced Tuesday after missing the previous two games with a sore left knee.

“We started it when Al went out – we realized we needed to play a little faster,” Walker said. “And it helped, just pushing the basketball and getting into the offense a little quicker.

“Now that Al is back, we need to continue it. Just add his post game in. If we put those two dynamics together, we’ll be pretty tough to guard.”

Understand that raising the pace doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of fast breaks, although that would be welcome. For the Hornets, it’s more about getting the ball across half court more efficiently to buy a few extra seconds each possession.

Or as backup point guard Brian Roberts described it, getting into a play with 19 seconds left on a 24-second shot clock, rather than 15.

“If we start at 19 it gives us a chance to look at all of our options in a given play,” said Roberts, who started the last two games in Walker’s absence. “Those four or five seconds are big for us.”

The beauty of this recent stretch of games was that while the Hornets played more up-tempo, they avoided an accompanying increase in turnovers. They actually committed slightly fewer turnovers in those nine games (an average of 11 versus a season-long average of 11.8).

“That’s the fine line you have to walk. You can’t play so fast that you look erratic.” Roberts said. “But to push the ball across midcourt and get into our sets quicker, that makes the defense play longer. That’s a benefit for sure.”

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said the model for this is the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs. Although the Spurs don’t score a lot of fast-break points, they are excellent at early-possession offense.

“San Antonio has always been good at playing at a pace where you don’t get your defense set. That lets them explore all their secondary options,” Clifford said. “When you look at their numbers, they are really efficient from 18 (seconds left in the shot clock) to 12 and from 12 to six.

“That’s really a combination of half-court and transition basketball. That’s what you want to get good at.”

Walker’s injury: Though the Hornets didn’t scrimmage Tuesday, Walker said he ran and cut enough in practice to feel his chances are good of playing Wednesday night against Miami.

“We didn’t do much contact, but I was able to get through everything,” Walker said. “We went through the offense, and I felt pretty good. Hopefully I can go tomorrow.”

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